Theater / Film Review: MACBETH (Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma; screening exclusively in cinemas from May 2, 2024)

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by Paola Bellu on May 1, 2024

in Theater-D.C.,Theater-International,Theater-New York


“When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won,” says a Witch to introduce my favorite cursed play by the Bard, and I immediately crave medieval witches, prophecies, ghosts, and murders, but fearing a disappointment because of its length and complexity. Well, this powerful version adapted by Emily Burns starring Ralph Fiennes as Macbeth and Indira Varma as Lady Macbeth, and directed by Simon Godwin, does not fail. Filmed live at Dock X in London, and  screening internationally exclusively in cinemas from May 2, 2024, this Macbeth evokes modern times and current wars; a car on fire, destruction, and war survivors moving around like zombies welcome us to the aftermath of all conflicts, setting the pace. The cast is in modern military uniforms and fatigues (minimalist set and costumes by Frankie Bradshaw) to underline the tragedy’s violence but Godwin keeps the traditional eloquence and psychological depth needed to keep us involved until the end.

Shakespeare’s saga of ambition, violence and madness relies on the acting, which happens to be the strongest part of this adaptation. Macbeth walks on stage with his friend Banquo (an intense and flawless Steffan Rhodri) after the battle, and Fiennes is excellent in depicting the hardened warrior, a general admired for his bravery in war. His pragmatic posture changes as soon as he hears the Witches’ predictions (a mischievous trio played by Lucy ManganDanielle Fiamanya, and Lola Shalam), showing us the first glimpse of his dark ambitions.

It’s only the beginning. We then see Fiennes interpret the sweet, loving husband – and the chemistry with Varma is exquisite – who turns into a butcher to become the king of Scotland. At the same time, Fiennes gives us the insecure coward that needs to keep murdering people in order to get power and keep it, a bloodthirsty tyrant with a straw tail, even clownish in his madness, until he realizes that it’s all over and gains back a sliver of his old self. Fiennes goes smoothly through all the transformations: he is a very thoughtful Macbeth and an anti-hero we feel for despite his horrific actions. With his classical expertise, he gives us a beautifully spoken performance.

Indira Varma’s brilliant and fierce portrait of Lady Macbeth is also memorable, a role she seems to have been born to play. She displays her talent and versatility going from the loving, attentive wife who radiates energy to the terrifying power-thirsty enabler that starts with the ”Unsex me” soliloquy and ends into a moral abyss where she abandons herself to the play’s demons, and her acting is harrowing. Is she driven by love for her husband or crazy ambition? We are rocked between compassion and repulsion

The setting, lights, sound and choreography are less eventful when shown on a TV, it makes me wish I saw it in a theater. (In fact, aside from the screenings, Fiennes is appearing live as Macbeth through May 5 at Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C., where Godwin is Artistic Director.) Still, this is an excellent documentation of a remarkable play with a phenomenal ensemble, including Ben Turner as Macduff, Rebecca Scroggs as Lady Macduff/Doctor, Keith Fleming as King Duncan/Siward, Ewan Black as Malcolm, Ben Allen as Ross, Levi Brown as Angus, Jonathan Case as Seyton, Michael Hodgson as Second Murderer, Jake Neads as First Murderer/Donalbain, Richard Pepper as Lennox, Rose Riley as Menteith, and Ethan Thomas as Fleance. Each member of the cast gives a heartrending performance. Don’t miss it.

presented by Trafalgar Releasing, in partnership with Wessex Grove and Underbelly
for international screenings from May 2, 2024, visit Macbeth in Cinemas

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